BitterSweet Monthly has updated their story on Stephen’s Children and Mama Maggie, first published in 2016 after a first-person visit to the field. Please enjoy the updated story below.
It has been 35 years since Maggie Gobran abandoned a successful marketing career and an esteemed professorship to care for the poorest of the poor in Egypt. Though she has been named one of the BBC’s 100 most influential women of 2020 and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize more than a half dozen times, the only accolade she cherishes is a nickname the children gave her many years ago: Mama Maggie.
“In 1985 when I first visited these places, I was sick from the smell. And I think my soul was sick, asking how come we live so comfortable life and they don’t find even a cup of cold, clean water?” she says. “Then we started to ask God, ‘If you are merciful, God, how come you allow all this misery in this life?’” God seems to have answered: How do you?
When she entered Mokattam Village for the first time all those years ago, Mama Maggie noticed a woman, about her own age, sitting alone in the middle of the street selling corn. Caught in a downpour, the woman—a widow, Mama Maggie would learn—shivered from the wet and cold as puddles pooled around her bare feet. Soon a much-too-young girl ran to her side, relieving her mother to care for the other children at home. Soaked herself but filled with compassion, Maggie quickly took the girl to buy shoes before beginning her shift. Delighted with her choice, the girl kindly requested an adult size. “This girl taught me a lesson of my life,” says Maggie. “That even though she needed something badly, she preferred someone else’s need before her own.” She had wanted to give them to her mother.
“The poor are rich in their love and they give without limits,” she says. “Sometimes I give food to a child and notice that he does not eat it. I ask him if he does not like it, and I am surprised that he keeps the food to give it to his hungry brother when he returns home.”
These experiences have formed in Mama Maggie a core conviction: the poor have much to teach us. “We need them more than they need us.” In this spirit and for this purpose, the Gobran family formalized its care for the poor by focusing on education and human development through its nonprofit, Stephen’s Children.
This is the story of what has happened since one shoeless little girl selling corn in the streets inspired Mama Maggie and thousands of others along with her to provide education and care to the poorest of the poor.